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Active duty military may be involved in advocacy efforts, but not while in uniform or as a representative of the U.S. military.
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Published 9/1/2013
Chad A. Krueger, MD; Kristin Leighty

Advocacy as an Active-Duty Member of the Military

What is allowed and what to avoid

Advocacy is an important part of the movement toward improving the delivery of orthopaedic care. However, for orthopaedicsts who are members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard, participation in advocacy efforts may lead to some contention and confusion about what is or is not allowed.

Many orthopaedic surgeons currently serving in the military may not know the answers to even simple questions, such as “Are active duty members of the military allowed to donate to the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (Orthopaedic PAC)?” As a result, they may act conservatively and refrain from taking any action or making a donation. (In fact, the answer to that question is “Yes, active-duty members of the military may donate to any PAC.”)

Even though many military surgeons are leaders within the orthopaedic community and understand the importance that small actions such as donations to the Orthopaedic PAC can have, military surgeons often remove themselves from all things political. The following information is provided to guide active-duty members of the military in becoming politically involved.

The general rule is that no political activity can be performed on behalf of the U.S. military. However, what a military orthopaedist does on his or her own time and under his or her own authority is completely up to the individual.

What members of the military can do
Under the mandates of Directive 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty” (February 2008), active-duty military members can do the following:

  • register, vote, and express an individual, personal opinion on political candidates, as long as the individual does not present him- or herself as a representative of the Armed Forces
  • promote and encourage others to exercise their vote, as long as the active-duty military member does not act as an influencing party on the person
  • attend a partisan or nonpartisan political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform
  • serve as an elected official as long as the position does not represent a partisan party, does not interfere with the individual’s duties as a military officer, is not performed when in uniform, and has the approval of the Secretary of the service branch
  • sign a petition
  • write to a publication expressing personal views on a political issue as long as a statement that these views do not reflect the government’s view is included
  • make monetary contributions to a political organization, party, or committee that favors a partisan candidate, as long as those donations are otherwise legal and fall within the limitations of section 441a of title 2 USC (d) and section 607, title 18 USC
  • display a political bumper sticker
  • attend a fundraiser, rally, or meeting while not in uniform and as long as there is no inference or appearance of sponsorship or endorsement

What members of the military cannot do
Active-duty military members cannot do the following:

  • participate in political fundraising activities while in uniform or with the inference or appearance of endorsement
  • solicit personal contributions for a political party from another member of the military or from any other person while in uniform or as part of their official duty
  • be listed as a sponsor for a partisan political club
  • write letters or participate in radio or television interviews, group discussions, or articles endorsing a particular political candidate
  • act in an official capacity for any political committee or candidate for a campaign
  • engage in any fundraising activities on a military installation or federal facility
  • display a political sign or banner larger than a bumper sticker on their vehicles or in their offices.
  • sell tickets or otherwise promote a political event
  • make a contribution to or solicit a contribution from another member of the Armed Forces on active duty
  • use contemptuous words to describe a political candidate
  • perform any activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly linking the Department of Defense to a partisan party

In addition, under section 607, title 18 USC, it is unlawful for anyone connected to a local, state, or federal office to solicit or receive a donation of anything of value in a room that is used for official duties of the U.S. government.

All members of the military should become familiar with these directives. These important guidelines must be followed to maximize participation in the political process while ensuring that no illegal activities take place. If these statutes do not appear to answer certain questions, members of the military can contact their local Judge Advocacy General office for guidance.

Chad A. Krueger, MD, is a resident member of the AAOS. Kristin Leighty is the manager, Orthopaedic Political Action Committee, in the AAOS office of government relations. She can be reached at leighty@aaos.org